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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

New Poll Shows Low Levels of ‘Confidence’ in American Institutions

From Mike Allen, Erica Pandey and Jim VandeHei of Axios comes news in an e-blast of yet another disturbing Gallup Poll about levels of “confidence” in American institutions. The authors’ take is how good it is that 65 percent of poll respondents say they have confidence in “small business.” OK, that’s a pretty good thing, although it seems reasonable to wonder why it isn’t even higher, small biz being the “backbone” of American capitalism and all that. I guess that roughly a third of Americans have had some sour experiences with independent contractors etc.

Still, compared to other ‘institutions’ in the USA, small biz is doing pretty good. The same poll reports 43 percent having confidence in police; 32 percent for churches; a walloping 27 percent for the U.S. Supreme Court;  26 percent for both public schools and large tech companies; a miserly 14 percent in television news and a pathetic 8 percent in congress.

Few will be shocked by these poll figures. Cynicism abounds, some media and many pollsters reinforce it, and let’s face it, we do have a hell of a lot of actual corruption in America – so much so that flashes of integrity or generosity by public institutions are often reported as hot news.

The Axios team notes a “partisan divide in confidence. Republicans’ confidence in organized religion (49%) exceeds that of Democrats (25%). Democrats’ faith in organized labor (39%) tops that of Republicans (15%).” No shockers there. Perhaps we should be glad that at least there is no great partisan divide in confidence in small business, with just a 2 percent divide between Dems and Republicans. Hard up for positive news, the Axios team requests upbeat reports from readers about “your favorite local businesses.”

But I remain pretty disturbed by the 8 percent confidence in “congress.” Granted, it’s not exactly a hot flash. Declining faith in “congress” has been a staple of polls for a long time. What bothers me the most is that I can’t count the many times I’ve tried to correct even my fellow liberals, when they bad-mouth “congress” for inaction on America’s many problems. Highly-partisan Democrat that I am, it is nonetheless absolutely true that Democrats have done a hell of a lot better job of passing needed and even popular reforms in one house of congress than have Republicans, only to see them crushed by the GOP in the other house of congress again and again.

Yes, those Republicans were elected and their votes are valid. But Mitch McConnell outed their purely obstructionist strategy when he urged blanket opposition to all of President Obama’s proposals, regardless of their merit. Even before that, Newt Gingrich’s scorched earth partisanship put a brutal end to the normal comity between Democratic and Republican members of congress that once produced historic and urgently-needed reforms like the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts of 1964-5. Trump and his twisted entourage piled on the polarization with gusto.

It’s hard to have an honest disagreement with George Lakoff’s argument that the public, even many Democrats, are routinely suckered into using preferred Republican terms in talking about the fate of needed reforms in our national and local legislatures. In large part, it is collateral damage of the triumph of ‘both sidesism,’ ‘whataboutism,’ or ‘false equivalence’ journalism. Whatever you want to call it, it distorts  public debate and makes political accountability increasingly difficult.

Despite the “liberal bias” that has been attributed to flagship press, like the New York Times and Washington Post, major media has too often been an eager partner with Republican propagandists in blaming “congress.” Republican wordsmith/strategist Frank Luntz has prospered for being openly candid about the necessity of using biased lingo to advance his party’s cause. The sad truth is that, with some exceptions, ‘the press’ has been an easy play for Republican propagandists.

Democrats, liberals, progressives, ‘the left,’ moderates and all others who don’t buy into the wingnut view of American politics, take note: It’s not “congress” that deserves condemnation for inaction; it’s Republicans who deserve it, even though many commentators are reluctant to say so.

2 comments on “New Poll Shows Low Levels of ‘Confidence’ in American Institutions

  1. Martin Lawford on

    There has been just one year, 2010, when fewer than 90% of House members who sought re-election have not won it. Even in 2010, the rate was 85%. The average since 1992 has been 94%. And yet, Congress is at the bottom of the list of trusted institutions, with only 8% of respondents voicing much trust in Congress. This means that at least nine out of ten voters trust their own Congressmen but do not trust the Congress. J.P. Green dismisses their attitude as “the wingnut view of American politics” and blames the news media. I doubt that, but let’s assume for a moment that he is correct. The solution would be to persuade the news media to report the news as Green would want them to. Unfortunately, the news media itself suffers from a severe distrust. Only 14% of respondents put much trust in television news and only 18% say that about newspapers. Then, how can a widely distrusted institution, the news media, rebuild the trust of an even more distrusted institution, the Congress? It can’t.


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